Having successfully completed the most extensive flight tests in history, the F-35 fighter is well on its way to setting the global standard for tactical air power. Nearly 500 of the planes in three different variants will be delivered by year’s end. But rather than commending program managers and contractors for an extraordinary accomplishment, critics have seamlessly transitioned to questioning how much it costs to operate the fighter. The new complaint is based less on real information that on the incomplete way in which the Pentagon calculates sustainment costs. For instance, when comparing F-35 with legacy fighters, the office in charge of cost assessment and program evaluation fails to consider (1) divergent levels of wartime effectiveness, (2) divergent levels of combat attrition, (3) divergent aircraft maturities, (4) divergent methods of accounting for costs, and (5) divergent levels of on-board technology. The result is estimates that understate the cost of continuing to employ Cold War fighters, while exaggerating the cost of sustaining F-35s. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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